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How to spot fake ambulances in China

If you call for an ambulance in China then pay attention when it arrives – it may not be all that it seems.

It has been reported on a number of occasions that emergency operators on the Chinese mainland have been known to send private ambulances rather than the official ones. Cited cities include Chengdu, Wenzhou and Shijiazhuang. In these instances, the operators gave the case information to privately run hospitals, or even private van owners who disguise their own vehicles to look like ambulances, even though they have not actually had the training or acquired the license to drive a real ambulance. 

Most of time, these “ambulances” are inadequately equipped with medical supplies and equipment, and do not have certificated doctors and nurses onboard. Often they have just a single driver and no other people at all, leading to some uncomfortable moments when stretchers must be moved on board the vehicle.

For information on how to call the emergency services, see this article.


How to spot fake or private ambulances

It is not always easy to distinguish fake ambulances from official ones from the outside, however you can tell them apart from the equipment inside and the medical team on board.

Fake ambulances

Fake ambulances are usually just remodeled vans, poorly equipped with only – at most – a stretcher, simple breathing equipment, a first aid kit, blood pressure monitors and bandages.

fake ambulance

A typical fake ambulance


Official ambulances

Official ambulances are all equipped with GPS, a car phone, first aid kits, oxygen cylinders, breathing equipment, a portable suction unit (for clearing a wound or mouth of blood, saliva etc), a fracture fixing device, a soft stretcher, a regular stretcher, a glucose monitor, en electrocardiograph, and a tracheal intubation package. 

There should be five medical workers team on board a real ambulance, including doctors, nurses and stretcher carriers. Fake ambulances will only have a one- or two-person team.

typical ambulance

A typical official ambulance


What to do if you are sent a fake ambulance

Fake ambulances are absolutely illegal. Their drivers and other staff will probably not have proper medical training, what little equipment they have may not be sterile or safe, they are not licensed or trained to drive in emergency situations and they are generally unsafe and disreputable. 

If you are sent one of these vehicles, you should call 120 again and demand that they send you a real ambulance. You also should take the fake driver’s license plate number and (if you were able to get it) the ambulance operator’s name, and report them to the police. But make sure you get the injured or ill parties to safety first!

Although fake ambulances are very much illegal, the real ambulances do not take patients back to their homes, nor do they transfer patients from city to city – thus, the fake ambulance market continues to survive, even when not relying on corrupt 120 operators to send them to emergencies.


Useful Chinese words and phrases

紧急呼叫 jǐnjí hūjiào Emergency call
报警 bàojǐng Call the police
救护车 jiùhù chē Ambulance
急救中心 jíjiù zhōngxīn Emergency center
火警 huǒjǐng Fire service
接线员 jiēxiàn yuán Operator
拨打 Bōdǎ Dial
海警 hǎijǐng Coast guard
救援 jiùyuán Rescue
危险 wēixiǎn Danger
事故 shìgù Accident
火灾 huǒzāi Fire
伤亡 shāngwáng Injury and casualty
受伤 shòushāng Get injured


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